Sarah Hochman: My Teen Israel Experience

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Sarah visiting The Kotel during BBYO’s International Leadership Seminar in Israel

Sarah Hochman, daughter of Molly Haley and Jacobo Hochman is a junior at Houston High School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of her BBYO ILSI (International Leadership Seminar in Israel) trip last summer. All rising high school juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants up to $3,000 to attend a recognized teen summer or semester program in Israel. Applications for Summer 2023 are now available online. Click here to learn more and apply.

By: Sarah Hochman

During three weeks of Summer 2022, I participated in BBYO’s International Leadership Seminar in Israel (ILSI). This trip was the voyage of a lifetime and my first ever trip to Israel. Over the three weeks we spent traveling across all of Israel, we were able to see and learn more than I had ever imagined to be possible.

From hiking the legendary Masada before sunrise, not only seeing but going into Ben Gurion’s humble kibbutz home in the Negev, learning how to surf with a nonprofit on a Tel Aviv beach, visiting and praying at the Kotel multiple times, and exploring a bustling Jerusalem shuk (market) before Shabbat, each and every day provided me with a new experience. Other activities we did and places we saw include splashing in the Sea of Galilee, floating in the Dead Sea, camel riding, rafting down the Jordan River, staying in Bedouin tents, rappelling down a crater, hiking through cool and clear waterfalls, singing together under the desert moonlight, and shopping along Ben Yehuda Street.

Each of these experiences deepened my connection to Israel and to the Jewish people more than I ever expected to be possible, reaffirming a bond I know will never be broken. I already am looking forward to taking another trip when I get the chance to go back.

When I arrived on the trip, I knew virtually no one. Being one of the youngest in a group that filled up four buses to their entirety was quite daunting. Yet, in the blink of an eye, I was surrounded by so many new friends who I still talk to every single day. These people have all changed my life, and I never would have met them if I hadn’t gone to Israel. Being on a trip with 160 other Jewish teens from a plethora of different countries leaves me speechless; it helped me to realize how much we have in common with one another even while living completely different lives in completely different places. We would never have met and become friends if it weren’t for this shared voyage, we all chose to do. It also was an inspiring and powerful example that Judaism thrives today in so many varying communities all over the globe.

Our various awe-inspiring guest speakers, fearless BBYO staff members, and knowledgeable tour guides affirmed this, giving us perspectives from all their unique stories and connections to Israel. Some of them were Israeli, some were immigrants, and all came from different countries and different Jewish backgrounds. Whether they were sharing memories of their time in the army or an interesting fun fact, they provided us with learning opportunities we would never have gotten from school or even an Israel trip with our families, and that knowledge will forever remain a great asset to myself and all who were fortunate enough to experience ILSI or any Israel trip. If nothing else, everyone (including myself) learned: there is nowhere quite like Israel.

Thank you to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping make my BBYO ISIL Israel trip possible for me.

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